Sports fans have, in many cases, the type of dedication, pride and devotion that is sometimes seen in cults and in religious zealots. About fifteen seconds on a sports fan themed Facebook group can show how seriously people take this stuff. It could be as simple as somebody making an off-color comment about Tom Brady, and the Patriots’ fans come out of the woodwork with words ranging from “hater” to racial slurs and other unpublishable nonsense.
Better than just watching the hate through the internet, going to a sporting event opens one up to aggressive banter with other fans and in some extreme cases, it turns to insults and intimidation. In the worst of situations, physical altercations follow. They’re hilarious unless you’re involved.
These physical altercations sometimes go from a one-on-one fistfight to something much more intense and destructive; a riot. Other times, small groups of people just turn furious after a tough, high-profile loss, and join together, burning cop cars, destroying property and of course, brutalizing one another. While these events are rare, they are a manifestation of the love people have for athletes and their favorite clubs.
While it usually starts as a couple of rowdy fans, any leader knows, the first step to any movement is one person going against the grain. In a sports riot, one fan pushes another, push comes to shove, fists start flying and eventually a third person catches an errant swing and before anyone knows what’s in the works, thousands of furious fans are marching the streets on a rampage. It may not be pretty but as long as you make it out with all your limbs still intact, it probably fun. Here are some of the most destructive sports riots in history.
Note that many of football/soccer’s most awful tragedies have taken the form of tramplings and stampedes. There will be some of such events on this list, but only those that started with an actual riot, and not those that simply started with fans trying to get in or out of a stadium. If your favorite sports riot isn’t here, write a detailed account of why it should be listed in the comments section and I’ll get to it eventually.
15. Detroit, Michigan, 1984: Detroit Tigers World Series Riot – 1 Killed
For those who think Detroit hit rock bottom just a few years ago, we have much to teach you. Detroit has been a nightmare for ages. Back in 1984, the Tigers beat the San Diego Padres in the World Series. While they split the first two games 1-1, it took just three more to finish the series.
There was revelry and of course, this wouldn’t be much of an entry in the article if there wasn’t some violence, as they rioted in Detroit. Police cars were flipped and set on fire (which goes without saying for most riots) civilian cars were flipped, dozens were injured, over thirty were arrested and, sadly, one fan was killed, according to The Baltimore Sun.
14. Argentina: Many Small Riots in the Last Few Years
Violence related to soccer is an ongoing issue in Argentina. In 2014, there were numerous incidents in which soccer players and fans were killed during small riots during and after matches. Franco Nieto was just one of the victims and he was killed in December 2014, according to Time. He was the captain of Tiro Federal, who had just finished a particularly brutal game against Chacarita Juniors. He was getting into his car with his wife and young child when he was grabbed and beaten by a group of thugs and left for dead.
Events such as these are not uncommon in Argentina, as fifteen people were killed in similar incidents throughout 2014.
13. Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1993: Bulls NBA Championship Riot – 2 Killed
This is an interesting case, much like the first entry about the Detroit Tigers. It was late June in 1993, and the Bulls had just won the Championship. The city decided to riot anyway. For much of the rest of this article, teams will have lost or will be losing when the unrest starts, but in some places they do things a bit different.
One woman was shot and killed by a stray bullet as she stood on her balcony, while one young man was pulled from his car at an intersection and shot to death, according to the LA Times.
12. Detroit, Michigan, USA, 1990: Pistons Riots – 8 Killed
Staying with the theme of basketball for a second, a couple of years before the Bulls “fans” revelry turned into terrible violence, Detroit Pistons fans did exactly the same thing. It started out as people partying in the streets but quickly turned into a night of robberies, looting, violence and destruction. In the mayhem, eight people were killed; one fell off a roof, one was shot in a parking lot, and six were killed by hit and run accidents, according to The New York Times.
11. Harare, Zimbabwe, 2000: World Cup Qualifying – 12 Killed
In a game against South Africa leading up to the World Cup, fans became enraged and threw rocks at the pitch after the South Africans scored a goal to go up by two. It was minute 84 and the game was clearly out of reach. Before the fans could get too out of hand, police fired tear gas. This caused a stampede that would leave twelve people dead, according to BBC.
Many argued at the time that police, who had been dealing with anti-government chanting and disrespect from spectators all game, had fired off the tear gas prematurely and had overreacted, and were really at fault for the deaths.
10. Butembo, DRC, 2008 Witchcraft Riot – 13 Killed
While witch hunts are often used in North American political discussions to refer to mislabeling some groups as threats, an accusation of witchcraft started a riot that got 13 people killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo back in 2008.
There are some parts of Africa in which animist traditions are still believed. There was an accusation that a player was using a form of witchcraft to sway the events of the game and players on the field started to brawl and the fans joined in. The police contingent at the match fired into the crowd (later claimed that they had fired into the air) causing panic. The spectators stampeded to escape, killing thirteen, with a majority in their early teens, according to the Huffington Post.
9. Kinshasa, DRC, 2014: ASV Riot – 15 Killed
Our second entry from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country that has seen a rough few decades to say the very least, is less peculiar than the first. In short, it is a much more standard soccer (football) riot. ASV Club and Tout Puissant Mazembe were the teams that faced off that day and ASV fans, whose team was on the losing side, began to chuck stones onto the pitch. Police fired tear gas into the crowd and when fans tried to rush to escape the gas, part of the stands collapsed, causing the deaths of 15 people, according to 3News.
8. Cairo, Egypt, 2015: Rioting in February – 25 Killed
For anyone who is somewhat versed in world events and politics, it isn’t news the Egypt has not enjoyed a pleasant few years. Soccer riots have pretty much been the least of their troubles, but earlier this year, after police and fans clashed in Cairo.
The cause of the riots are still somewhat unclear, and fans claimed police fired upon them with tear gas and shotguns, while police claim that fans started everything, throwing rocks and assaulting officers, while at least 25 people passed way, according to The Globe and Mail.
7. Brussels, Belgium, 1985: Heysel Stadium Disaster – 39 Killed
This riot involved supporters of Juventus and Liverpool, representing England and Italy in the European Cup Final. Juventus won the match but prior to the match, large sections of Liverpool fans and Juventus fans were in close proximity, held back by just a small fence and a small contingent of security guards. Rocks were tossed back and forth between the two sides, and when Liverpool fans started to advance on the Juventus fans, they tried to flee. They climbed atop a small concrete retaining wall, which collapsed under the weight of dozens of fans. 39 were killed at this point, many of whom were crushed during the collapse.
6. Kayseri, Turkey, 1967: Ataturk Stadium Disaster – 40 Killed
Turkey’s worst sports related riot and disaster occurred during a match between clubs Kayserispor and Sivasspor. Around halftime the game was close and there was a heated scuffle between groups of fans. These turned deadly when some of these hooligans started attacking each other with knives and clubs, prompting a mass charge to leave the stadium. Forty people were caught in the stampede and killed, according to Yahoo!.
5. Orkney, South Africa, 1991: Oppenheimer Stadium Disaster – 42 Killed
This is the second worst riot or disaster in the history of South African sports, and while the Ellis Park disaster claimed one more life, it was a non-violent stampede. Back in 1991, in the city of Orkney, during a preseason match between Orlando Pirates FC and the Kaizer Chiefs. A questionable call by an official caused Pirates fans to start attacking Chiefs’ fans. Supporters of both sides tried to flee and in the mayhem, 42 were killed, mostly due to trampling, according to Times Live.
4. Port Said, Egypt, 2012: Port Said Riots – 74 Killed
In February 2012, after a game between Egyptian clubs al-Masry and al-Ahly (al-Masry won), fans of the losing side stormed the field attacking players, officials and opposition fans alike. Weapons ranged from rocks and knives to bottles and fireworks. When all was said and done, over 70 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured, according to BBC.
Several of these rioters were put on trial and sentenced to the death penalty for their roles in the riot. There was a smaller uprising that took place in the wake of this decision, as many saw the sentence as a politically motivated move as opposed to a fair trial. Over twenty people were killed in this followup riot.
3. Accra, Ghana, 2001: Accra Stadium – 123 Killed
Two of Ghana’s most popular teams were facing off in early May, 2001; Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. Kotoko lost the game due to two late goals scored by Hearts of Oak, and fans started brawling and pelting the field with debris. Police started to rough up some of the unruly rioters and fired what was considered an excess of tear gas into the crowd. Panic ensued and in a mad dash by thousands to escape the stadium, many were trampled and died, according to CBC. Hundred more were injured.
Several police were charged with manslaughter due to their use of tear gas, but none were convicted as the judge claimed that the prosecution had no case.
2. Lima, Peru, 1964: Estadio Nacional – 320 Killed
The deadliest of all soccer riots occurred in May 1964 during a match between Peru and Argentina. Peru was down by one heading into the final minutes when a goal that would have tied it up was disallowed, inciting fans to storm the field in a fit of rage. Police fired tear gas into the air, causing panic, and hundreds of fans who tried to flee were crushed on their way out of the stadium as the gates to the exits were closed, according to The Guardian. This is another example of a mass crushing, but this one, unlike a few others, was caused by rioting and police.
1. Constantinople, AD 532: Nika Riots – Thousands Killed
This is the first recorded sports riot and also the most brutal. It took place back in the sixth century in the Byzantine Empire, which looked to chariot racing as it’s equivalent of soccer (football) at the time. The same things were at stake back then; competitors could get rich, spectators were there for a good time, and gamblers always had some gold on the line. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?
While there were no real teams, there were two factions of chariot racers (there were four factions, but red and yellow had lost their dominance); the Blues and the Greens, who represented the ruling class and the people respectively. Emperor Justinian was a supporter of the blues. After several members of both blue and green were arrested for murder, there was a protest and some protestors attacked Justinian’s palace. The crowd had killed dozens of people, and had also declared a new emperor, but Justinian ordered his troops into the mob; butchering and murdering thousands over the next few days.
The final death count is somewhat debated, but some sources claim that 30,000 is an accurate number, according to SmithsonianMag.
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